Last week, heading into the final weekend before election day, we saw some true ugliness come out of the state Democratic Party. The institution, traditionally and functionally an arm of the governor, sent out a mailer to a small, targeted group of Jewish Democrats. The mailer was filled with awful lies about his opponent, Cynthia Nixon—suggesting she was an anti-Semite who supported the controversial Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement against the nation of Israel. In fact, she is a practicing Jew raising her children in the Jewish faith.
The party brass quickly apologized. Claimed it was a mistake. It was not a mistake, as insiders told our editor-at-large Gerson Borrero earlier this week. It was a feature of old-time machine politics—a machine from a bygone era whose sole purpose, at times, seems to be consolidating and maintaining power among those who were either born into that world, or sold their soul for a ticket. More important than advancing progressive politics, even more important than getting Democrats elected, is maintaining the status quo.
It is very easy for some Democrats to blame Andrew Cuomo for this latest disgrace, or to blame him for failing to reform all of the ills of this broken and ugly system. But doing so would be overly simplistic, as frustrating as that sounds. Andrew Cuomo didn’t create this system; he is just one of the most astute politicians at navigating through its mud. If he is removed from office, the system will still exist with many others keen to keep a structure that benefits them in place.
But in the long run, this is the type of thing that destroys the Democratic Party’s brand and leaves millions of already disenfranchised citizens disgusted to the point that they don’t want to participate.
This is why Democratic leaders should clean house at the state party; start over; and build a new organization that harnesses the energy young voters, minorities and women are bringing to the party, instead of dissuading them from participating. What is needed is a new state party that is laser focused on supporting ALL Democrats and growing participation, with knowledge that the collective intellect of the masses will sort out the best candidates and strategies with better success than an oligarchy of power brokers often more concerned about their own skin.
This can’t be done overnight. It will take consistent and collective effort on the part of the people who will be giving up power. But the consequences of not doing so are more dire than the temporary loss of influence. Just look at the Democratic National Committee’s 2016 disaster, where the Clinton campaign’s control of the party left millions of Bernie Sanders supporters angry enough that they stayed home—allowing for Donald Trump’s improbable Rust Belt run to victory.
A good start would be to let a credible, independent person come in and investigate what happened. Then, fire everyone involved.
After that, Gov. Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins should lead the change—transforming the state party into a resource to promote participation and discussion among Democrats; and providing basic assistance to any member interested in running for office or volunteering. It should be a forum for discussions about policy and political tactics, providing an outlet for the energetic voices of young voters, minorities and women. It could also be a conduit for activists to connect, organize and make a bigger impact.
What it cannot be, and should no longer be, is another tool for the powerful that gets handed back and forth based on election results. If it does not change, the Democratic Party loses.